Category Archives: Debating Society
Major General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth was a member of Grant’s House from 1882 until 1885. He went on to Sandhurst and began his career in the Army.
In 1898 he took part in the Battle of Omdurman in Sudan. Towards the end of the battle an enemy fighter attempted to attack two journalists who were part of the camp. Smyth galloped forward and although severely wounded by a spear in his arm, managed to shoot the man dead. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his conspicuous bravery.
On the outbreak of the First World War Smyth was once again in the Sudan, working in the Khartoum district where he was active in combating the slave-trade. He was among several senior officers sent by Lord Kitchener to the Dardanelles as part of the Gallipoli campaign. He commanded the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade as a temporary brigadier-general at the Battle of Lone Pine and was one of the last officers to leave the peninsula.
He was mentioned in despatches on 29th January:
High praise is due to Brigadier-General N. M. Smyth and to his battalion commanders. The irresistible dash and daring of officers and men in the initial charge were a glory to Australia. The stout heartedness with which they clung to the captured ground in spite of fatigue, severe losses, and the continual strain of shell fire and bomb attacks may seem less striking to the civilian; it is even more admirable to the soldier.
Percival Ernest Knapp attended Westminster school for over four years. He was admitted as a Queen’s Scholar and, whilst academically very able, came from a military family as was destined for a career in the army. During his time at school he was a keen debater and The Elizabethan records him speaking ‘in a very concise form’ against a motion to uphold the powers of the House of Lords. He also excelled at football as he was ‘very fast’ and ‘had a wonderful knack of getting round the backs’.
He left school in December 1892 and entered military training at Sandhurst. He served the army in India, seeing action in the Tirah campaign in 1897-8 and at the Battle of Peking in 1900 which followed the Boxer rebellion. He received medals from both conflicts. By 1912 he had been promoted to the rank of Major.
On the outbreak of war, Knapp served in Egypt but moved to fight in the Mesopotamia campaign in November 1915. He was killed in action at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad in an attack on the Ottoman Army.
The House met on Thursday, November 25, to discuss the motion ‘That in the opinion of this House America’s behaviour during the War has been unjustifiable.’
The Proposer (The VICE-PRESIDENT) said that he proposed the motion on two grounds that her acts all through had been double dealing, and that she had not fulfilled her role as a party to the Hague Convention. The Red Cross had been violated by Germany, open towns bombarded, neutral shipping destroyed, and non-combatant civilians had been murdered, but America’s only reply had always been a useless Note.
The Opposer (Mr. GREIG) said that America had done her best in sending Notes to the Germans when they violated the Hague Convention. Her army was very small and her navy, though of a good size, was not well manned. America, he said, was half German, and it would be very difficult for her to come in on either side.
The Seconder (Mr. HOLLINS) said that there had been no complaints about Germany’s barbarism in Belgium. The Americans had been very slack with regard to the various German officials in America who had been plotting to blow up their munition works. America ought not to interfere with European affairs.
Mr. KIRKMAN pointed out that we had all invited the American Ambassadors to look after our affairs in enemy countries, and this was asking America to interfere with European affairs. Her best way of looking after our affairs was to send Notes, for her army and navy were both weak.
Mr. SHARPE called our attention to the resignation of Mr. Bryan.
Mr. MEYER said that America’s whole principle was wrong. They should take proper action, and not be a mere Note-sender.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS said that America was not a first-class power, and should not try to be one.
Mr. HERBERT said that she would ruin herself with internal strife if she went into the war.
The PRESIDENT said that no one had dealt with the amazing statements of the Opposer and fourth speaker. America had failed in her dutyto the world. Self-interest was not the only thing. Her only hope lay in a big upheaval.
After various quarrels of a more or less personal nature, the motion was put to the vote, and carried by 10 votes to 6.
The House met on Thursday, November 18, to continue last week’s debate.
Mr. HARROD quoted the President as demanding that England should have been told, so that her armaments might have been increased ; but he held that that policy would have been fatal, for they would have inoculated us with the desire of war, and an outburst would have been the inevitable result. And what good could such information be to the average Englishman, when it was no good to the Government ? We could never have caught up Germany’s military supremacy, and an exhausting struggle in armaments would have been the only result, whereas the Government saw our proper sphere was in the struggle for industrial supremacy. Mr. Harrod then attacked Mr. Brandon-Thomas’s speech, especially his exercises in invective against Ministers. Mr. Brandon-Thomas demanded something theatrical, but he was content with the solid virtue and far-sightedness of the Government. Mr. Harrod is rather apt to repeat himself.
The VICE-PRESIDENT then rose and attacked most of Mr. Harrod’s statements. He pointed out that efficient mobilisation was due to a General Officer, and declared that nothing could have been worse than Lord Haldane’s administration of the War Office. He also quoted our lack of munitions as pointing to negligence on the part of the Government.
Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS then defended himself against Mr. Harrod’s attacks, chiefly by the use of an all-embracing ridicule.
Mr. OLIVER scoffed at the idea that the eight battalions removed by Lord Haldane were of any use. He thought it would be tyrannous if the nation has to support a large army and a large navy.
The PRESIDENT deprecated the attacks on Lord Haldane, who simply did not realise that Germany had changed since the time of Hegel. As for the impossibility of catching Germany up, Germany had got the start ; because she had got the start she was at the end of her resources, whereas Britain had not began to draw on them. Lord Roberts was a brave man, speaking the truth ; the Government insulted him. The democracy was told by its leaders that there was no danger when there was danger. For the want of a little courage and few more men, Belgium had been ravaged and made desolate. Could a Christian believe all this necessary and right?
Mr. GERRISH got up and started the old question by declaring that Britain had a Navy which was quite sufficient for her needs.
The PRESIDENT declared that it was not sufficient for the needs of Europe.
Mr. HARROD brought the debate to a conclusion by pointing out the inconsistencies in the speeches of the Vice-President and Mr. Brandon-Thomas, and accused the latter of getting hold of a piece of a phrase and making great fun of it, while completely avoiding the point.
The motion was then put to the vote, and lost by 7 votes to II.
The House met on Thursday, November 11, to discuss the motion’That in the opinion of this House Britain’s unreadiness for the War was entirely due to the negligence of the Government.’
The Proposer (The PRESIDENT) said that it might seem presumptuous for schoolboys to discuss such a motion, but he considered that the members of the House formed part of a most valuable class in Society. Before he dealt with the question he asked the House not totreat it as one of party politics, for it only happened that a Liberal Government was in power. He conceived that he had three things to prove : That there was danger; that we were unready; that the Government saw the danger, The ‘first needed little proof in the light of what we know now, though some may have known of the literature of Anglophobia, semi-official in character, published in Germany. As to the second, the President said that the mere fact that only two thirds of our expeditionary force was sent across at first would prove it, but even our full Expeditionary Force was absurdly inadequate, as every eminent soldier knew. But most of all we were morally unprepared. Now the Government had had six distinct warnings. The Morocco incident, where Germany tried to break the Entente ; the acceleration of the ‘German Naval programme in 1908 ; the third warning in 191o, of which little was known ; the famous Agadir incident ; the extraordinary mission of Lord Haldane, which fully enlightened the Government, according to Mr. Asquith ; and, lastly, the German Army Bill and Loan of 1913. This last showed that Germany’s best hour to strike would be somewhere in the year 1914, when we were being told that we were on the best terms with Germany, and when Lord Roberts was being insulted in Parliament for telling the truth.
The Opposer (Mr. ABRAHAMS), in a short speech, said that he fully admitted the President’s three points, but contended that nothing else could have been done. The Government received from their predecessors the ideals of Peace, Retrenchment and Reform. The Imperial Defence Committee had advised that no form of National Service was necessary, and no one of either party listened to Lord Roberts. The majority had always been against a large aimy, and while the Government were trying to get such an increase, as the President suggested, sanctioned by the people, Europe would see what was up, and Germany would attack us. The fault lay not with the Government, but with English history.
The Seconder (Mr. BRANDON-THOMAS), in a fluent but rather irrelevant speech, began by comparing the Opposer to Parliament, which always does what their forefathers did, and then blames them. We ought to have learnt our lesson from the Boer War, but we didn’t, and all our armchair critics laughed at Lord Roberts. The Government was always leaving things to be done afterwards, so they never got done at all. In peace they refuse to listen to the demands of the War Office and the Admiralty ; and when war finds the country unprepared, they are offered up as a scape-goat. The Government was always afraid of something—of the people, or of Germany, or of itself. Mr. Brandon-Thomas drew a, glowing picture of the elder Pitt’s measures, and proceededto deliver a venomous attack on Lord Haldane. He finished by saying that the Government had always crushed patriotism, and were horrified at any lack of it when disaster came.
The debate was then adjourned till the next meeting.